— by BEV QUESTAD and RON WILKINSON —
“Deception has no friend.” A voice adds, “We grew up soldiers around here. Most don’t make it past 24. But I never thought it would come to this.”
“Mission Park” begins with four friends as young boys around 11 years old. At that age, there are marked differences emerging in their personalities, though they are all profanity-adept, street-smart wanna-be’s looking for ways to make a name for themselves. The violent crime that follows this introduction marks the kids for life. As they grow older their basic characters initially follow the mythological template that fate has sealed the destinies of all four and nothing can make any significant difference.
Bobby Ramirez (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian Medina (Will Rothhaar) show courage and academic interest from the very beginning and end up working for the FBI. Future drug lord Jason Martinez (Walter Perez) is the seriously flawed, angry trigger man who will go the way of Al Capone characters from start to finish. Derek Hernandez (Joseph Julian Soria) goes along with Jason and does whatever he says. His crime is not so much killing people as refusing to think.
“Mission Park” is an ambitious film by debut Latino director Bryan Ramirez. Friends are brought up together, but some take the right path and some take a left turn. When the bad ones go down, the good ones are forced to make hard decisions.
This film is one of a new wave of Latino movies that seeks to break into the formulaic Hollywood industry. As the Hispanic demographic grows to become a majority movement in America and as technology breaks down film- making barriers, unabashedly ethnic films like this will proliferate.
Thanks to his perseverance, Ramirez left Hollywood and its demands for non-Latinos in the lead roles, and returned to his hometown, San Antonio, to produce this film for a bare-bones $4 million. Filmed in his border town, the all-Latino cast fills out the roles of both good guys and jerks, bringing an authenticity to life in the barrio.
Ramirez, coincidentally the last name of both the director/writer and protagonist, shows directorial talent. The passion he evokes from his ensemble cast is palpable and escalates the film to its climax. Valdez, as Bobby Ramirez, grasps the audience as he moves from innocent, congenial teenager to earnest, expendable agent.
However, there is a weakness in plot design with moments of incredulity, especially related to bungled FBI procedures. Furthermore, the casting of the young boys confuses the viewer as not all the children match the physical qualities of their older selves.
The reason to still see Ramirez’s debut film, despite its script difficulties, is a hopeful adage delivered by Bobby Ramirez’s father. “One day does not define a person. We all have an ability to create our own legacy.”
It is our choice in the aftermath of error that has the greater impact, and that’s what Ramirez’s screenplay comes home to say. At the end of the day it’s about forgiveness and re-calibrating to the higher road. Bobby’s challenge lies in taking on that mission and letting it, not his history, define and liberate him to a higher dimension.
Director and ScreenplayWriter: Bryan Ramirez
Cast: Jeremy Ray Valdez, Walter Perez, Fernanda Romero, Will Rothhaar and Joseph Julian Soria
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release: Sept. 6, 2013
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